Title: Affective habitus: New environmental histories of botany, zoology and emotions

Life under the Church Street camphor laurels[Zheljana Peric, 2014]. This month the Australia and New Zealand, Association for the Study of Literature, Environment & Culture (ALSEC-ANZ) held their Fifth Biennial Conference. The conference titled ‘Affective Habitus’ sought to bring, “the environmental humanities into new focus … disclosing new interfaces between critical animal studies, critical plant studies, affect theory and environmental history”. True to its aim, the conference was ‘jam-packed’ with captivating keynotes and panellists broadly focused on emotion and ecology. Perhaps giving form to a new field of study called eco-emotion. Emotional responses were expressed in relation to ecological matters, marrying the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ sciences. The most relevant to The Weed’s Network was the intermeshing of emotion and science in respect to the native/non-native controversy. It is becoming evident that a great deal of emotion is attached to both native and non-native vegetative species. The task for all empirical research is the challenge of how to ‘see’, interpret and understand the data presented at any given time through our own emotionally coloured personal and cultural lenses. The native/non-native controversy needs to be re-considered from the ground up. [Caption: Life under the Church Street camphor laurels] Continue reading …

Davis (2013) suggests that non-natives have been and continue to be viewed through faulty lenses. Davis says:

In a 1998 study, David S. Wilcove and colleagues concluded that invasive species are the second-greatest extinction threat to species in peril. This conclusion has been cited more than 1,600 times since the article’s publication, as well as in countless research proposals, management documents, and university classes throughout the world. By the first years of the twenty-first century, it had become common boilerplate for invasion literature, the conclusion often presented as fact without any reference at all. However, there are serious limitations and some biases in the information that Wilcove and his colleagues used to come to their conclusion. First, little of the information used to declare nonnative species the second-greatest threat to species survival was based on actual data at all, as the authors were careful to make very clear.

It can be a volatile venture attempting a rethink about our ideas and empirical knowledge of non-natives. There are vested interests involved. Davis also notes research examining invasives on continents and in marine situations and finds that invasives rate 6th in impact after a number of other factors, one of which is pollution. A major pollutant of concern to our readers is herbicide … how can we justify polluting the environment with toxic synthetic herbicides in the name of conservation, especially when these chemicals are one of the major causes of environmental decline leading to invasions?

It would seem, in our haste and desire to care for and protect our world we are overlooking the environmental costs of our interventions.

At the conference, Thom van Dooren highlighted the need to rethink the idea of killing for conservation. This reminds me of Allan Savory who was responsible for the slaughter of more than 40,000 elephants in the name of conservation. Pained by this, Savory experienced a crisis of consciousness which led to his development of holistic grazing, a sustainable method of farming in which the problem of weeds is dissolved. Emily O’Gorman discussed the idea of belonging, with the possibility of natives and non-natives co-existing. Monica Gagliano presented her research in which she demonstrated the learning abilities of plants in relation to defence response-ability. What could Monica’s findings indicate for us for the continued of use of herbicides in the face of a plant’s ability to resist our attempts at extermination.

To read the paper that unintentionally evoked a strong emotional reaction around the native/non-native controversy, click here. The aim of the paper was to examine some of the stories surrounding the plants we call ‘weeds’. However, it appears that one story felt severely neglected: the story of native vs non-native vegetation. Perhaps this response is an embodiment of what Monica Gagliano was expressing in her rejoinder to Michael Marder and Wendy Wheeler’s keynote when she spoke about the importance of bringing soul and science together. As James Hillman once said; “Perhaps killing weeds on my lawn with herbicides may be as repressive as what I am doing with my childhood memories”, (1995:xix-xx)

Article: WeedsNews4939 (permalink)
Date: June 26, 2014; 2:34:40 PM EST
Author Name: Zheljana Peric
Author ID: zper12